Tim Conway, co-star of the famed Carol Burnett Show and early TV comedy classic, McHale’s Navy has died due to an excess of fluid on his brain. He was 85.
A native of Willoughby, Ohio, Tim Conway was born Thomas Daniel Conway in 1933. He attended Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, where he majored in television and radio and was a disc jockey.
When he graduated, Conway enlisted in the United States Army, where he served between 1956–1958
After his discharge from the Army, Conway returned to Cleveland and worked with Ernie Anderson on KYW-TV, an NBC affiliate, in 1958 and 1959. From 1960 to 1962, he was on WJW-TV, where he also wrote material for the comedic skits shown in between film intermissions.
When Dick Van Dyke Show co-star Rose Marie visited WJW in 1961, she viewed tapes of some of Anderson and Conway’s skits and proceeded to take him under her wing.
Following his departure from WJW, Conway moved to New York City; where, with Rose Marie’s assistance, he auditioned for, and gained a spot on, ABC’s The Steve Allen Show as a regular player. It was here he changed his name to “Tim.”
Conway’s breakout role was as the bumbling, naive Ensign Charles Parker on the 1960s sitcom McHale’s Navy, alongside Ernest Borgnine and Joe Flynn. Borgnine would become Conway’s mentor and good friend. It was a friendship that went through the decades as Conway appeared at Borgnine’s 90th birthday party. Here is Conway on his McHale’s Navy years:
According to AP, Conway credited his Midwestern roots for putting him on the right path to laughs, with his deadpan expression and innocent, simple-minded demeanor.
“I think the Midwest is the heart of comedy in this country, and a little bit of the South, too,” he told the Wisconsin State Journal in 2005. “For some reason, we’re just more laid-back, more understanding. … And Midwesterners have a kinder sense of humor.”
It was probably those qualities that would gain Conway national fame on The Carol Burnett Show. He joined the ensemble of Burnett, Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence and Lyle Waggoner in 1975 after years as a frequent guest. The show aired on CBS from 1967 to 1978 and had a short summer stint on ABC in 1979.
“We really didn’t attack people or politics or religion or whatever. We just made fun of, basically, ourselves,” he said. That can be seen in many of the skits Conway participated in where Burnett and company had to hide their laughter:
Still considered one of the funniest sketches, The Dentist, paired the diminutive Conway with Korman:
Burnett said in a statement Tuesday that she was heartbroken. “He was one in a million, not only as a brilliant comedian but as a loving human being. I cherish the times we had together both on the screen and off. He’ll be in my heart forever.”
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Tributes also came from across the comedy world, including from Ruth Buzzi, who said “You were a comedy giant in the nice, compact-sized version” and Judd Apatow, who called him “riotously funny.” Richard Lewis, who said, “your work together was right next to Laurel&Hardy in craft and laughs.”
You loved everyone you met and we loved you back. You were funny off-camera without always being "on." You were a gentleman without a single mark against your good name. You were a comedy giant in the nice, compact-sized version. I will miss you… Rest in peace, Tim Conway. pic.twitter.com/xpHIGcycdC
— RUTH BUZZI (@Ruth_A_Buzzi) May 14, 2019
The amount of joy Tim Conway brought my family as a child was immeasurable. The man was pure comedy. Riotously funny. I finally got to see him work when he guest starred on The Larry Sanders show and he was all I dreamed he would be. As kind as he was funny. He will be missed. https://t.co/69NkVC6TwZ
— Judd Apatow (@JuddApatow) May 14, 2019
When I was a kid watching "The Carol Burnett Show," no one made me laugh harder than Tim Conway. What a sweet and effortlessly funny man.
— Conan O'Brien (@ConanOBrien) May 14, 2019
RIP Master. I was honored to make you laugh and be a friend.
As I spoke at Harvey Korman’s memorial that you oversaw, I said that without question, your work together was right next to Laurel&Hardy in craft and laughs. ❤️to your family. RL https://t.co/0zKWdLkBJK
— Richard Lewis (@TheRichardLewis) May 14, 2019
Even the daughter of the woman who discovered him, Georgiana Marie Guy, tweeted out her thoughts on Conway:
Mom discovered Tim Conway in 1961, but they didn't get to really work together until they did @BrookeShields SUDDENLY SUSAN with Harvey in 1997. It was a great reunion for all of them and like always, Tim was hilarious. pic.twitter.com/QcuSTrr0Tk
— Rose Marie-Official (@RoseMarie4Real) May 14, 2019
Besides the four Emmys he won with Burnett (three as a performer, one as a writer), he won Emmys for guest appearances in 1996 for Coach and in 2008 for 30 Rock.
After the Burnett years, Conway would go on to have two TV series that would only last a year a piece.
He also had a modest but steady movie career, appearing in such films as The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975), The Shaggy D.A. (1976), Cannonball Run II (1984), Dear God (1996) and Air Bud 2 (1998).
The Apple Dumpling Gang and Cannonball Run II allowed him to work with his comedic hero, Don Knotts, who died in 2006.
“If there’s any reason at all I’m in the business, I think it’s Don,” Conway once said. “He’s an icon in this business. He’s an icon that’s never going to be duplicated.”
He also found success in the 1980s in a series of comedy videos based on an oddly short character named Dorf. Among them were Dorf on Golf and Dorf Goes Fishing.
More recently Conway voiced the role of Barnacle Boy for the hugely popular children’s series SpongeBob SquarePants.
In addition to his wife and daughter Jackie, Conway is survived by children Tim Jr., Patrick, Jamie, Kelly, Corey and Seann, as well as two grandchildren, Courtney and Sophia.
Source: Associated Press